Boston Archdiocese, Hurting Financially, Warns of Layoffs

By Fox Butterfield
The New York Times [Boston MA]
June 18, 2003

BOSTON, June 17 - Underscoring the financial difficulty facing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston as a result of the sexual abuse scandal in the clergy and a sagging economy, Bishop Richard G. Lennon warned his parish priests today that because almost 100 churches were withholding money from the archdiocese, he would order them to start laying off employees or cut their health benefits.

Bishop Lennon, who took over as the interim administrator of the archdiocese after Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned in December, told the priests that "this may well be painful for some," but that the archdiocese had to bring its costs and resources into balance.

The shortfall averages about $15,000 a parish, the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said. It now amounts to a $9.4 million budget gap.

The money is supposed to be paid by Boston's 360 parishes into a central trust fund and then returned by the archdiocese to help individual churches pay for the pension benefits and health insurance of its lay employees and the insurance costs for its buildings, Father Coyne said.

"We just don't have the available funds to make these payments," he said.

If the 100 parishes do not start making payments by July 1, Father Coyne said, Bishop Lennon will send out a "letter of termination," meaning the lay employees could lose their health insurance, their jobs or both.

The 360 parishes employ about 9,000 laypeople, including teachers.

About 300 representatives of the parishes attended the meeting today with Bishop Lennon. The warning about terminating lay employees is only the latest sign of financial and morale problems in the archdiocese.

Father Coyne said the archdiocese had raised only $4.5 million of a projected $9 million annual giving campaign that is crucial to operating its schools and charities in Boston. Last year, before the scandal became public, the goal for the annual campaign was $17.4 million.

Moreover, an ambitious capital campaign started by Cardinal Law to raise $300 million is now likely to fall $100 million short, church officials here said.

The archdiocese's budget this year has been cut by 20 percent, following a 30 percent reduction last year.

In 2002 alone, the number of active priests fell by 10 percent, caused mostly by the removal of those accused of sexually molesting minors. That leaves the Boston archdiocese with 505 priests, according to the archdiocesan directory, down from 1,072 priests two decades ago.

Even these figures do not fully describe the troubles facing the Boston Archdiocese. For example, each parish is also supposed to contribute 1 percent of its weekly offerings to the Boston headquarters, in what is known as the cathedraticum, an amount that can reach anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000 a year.

But many priests say they have stopped sending their weekly offerings to protest how the church hierarchy handled the sexual abuse scandals and out of concern that the money will be used to pay legal settlements.

The Rev. Bernard P. McLaughlin, pastor of the St. Gerard Majella parish in Canton, a southern suburb, said he had not sent his share of offerings in two years.

"We're in good shape here," Father McLaughlin said. "The reason, I think, is that people here are happy and they are giving."

If his parishioners thought the money was going to the archdiocese, he said, "they would back off."

Father McLaughlin was invited to today's meeting with Bishop Lennon but did not attend.


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